NEPD Staff Writer: Oliver Thomas
With his four-catch, 42-yard performance in the season opener, Kenbrell Thompkins became the first undrafted rookie wideout to record a regular-season reception with the New England Patriots since Bam Childress in 2005.
But aside from falling on a milestone, Thompkins also fell on the turf and saw many passes meet the same fate. The El Camino College and University of Cincinnati product was in the vicinity of 10 incompletions, which dropped his receiving efficiency to 28 percent.
Yet in order to understand those numbers, it’s important to understand the context behind them.
It’s time to take a glance at all 14 passes thrown in the direction of New England’s 25-year-old target.
Incompletion: 15-Yard Dig Route
On a 1st-and-10 with over 13 minutes remaining in the first quarter against the Buffalo Bills, Thompkins lined up at the “X” spot and ran a 15-yard in. When he cut towards the hashes at the Buffalo 30-yard line, quarterback Tom Brady delivered the ball out in front where he wanted his receiver to be.
A rifle of a pass, Thompkins lunged between two Bills defensive backs and left his feet with his arms sprawled.
It sailed beyond his outstretched fingertips.
It’s possible that the 6’0”, 195-pounder could have hauled the throw in – if he stayed grounded for a split second longer. However, with the ball slightly overthrown, it would have been an impressive feat.
Incompletion: Hitch Route
With 8:30 left in the initial frame, the Patriots left the huddle in “21” personnel on a 1st-and-10. Thompkins split out left, and as the ball was snapped, he ran a hitch route towards the middle, cutting at the 35. The problem, though, is that he did not appear to be on the same page with Brady.
Thompkins halted his route and turned back to the football, merging in the direction of the numbers before switching inside. The idle time spent between the end of his pivot and the arrival of the football would lead many to believe that he ran the incorrect route.
Brady threw the ball across the middle, almost as if he anticipated Thompkins to run a post instead of a hitch. And as a result, No. 85 was left to dive at the pass with safety Aaron Williams nipping at his heels.
The ball deflected and fell incomplete.
Two-Yard Completion: Wide Receiver Screen
On a 2nd-and-10 – directly following the previous incomplete pass intended for Thompkins – the Patriots spread out in “11” personnel. Thompkins stood inside on the line and ran a quick-out option screen, coming back to the ball for the catch.
Thompkins harnessed the ball right at the line of scrimmage and turned upfield for his first NFL catch. But despite having three blockers in position to enhance his lanes, Thompkins opted to run back inside instead of continuing outside.
The play netted a two-yard gain.
Incompletion: Wheel Route
With six minutes left in the first, the Patriots sent Thompkins on a wheel route down the left sideline. As he got off the line, it was clear that he’d have to fend off the aggressive hands of Bills cornerback Leodis McKelvin.
The corner’s left arm latched onto the left cuff of Thompkins’ jersey, which held Thompkins back from retreating towards the football as Brady tossed his way. When the ball reached Thompkins, McKelvin had a wrap around his left arm, and as a result, the receiver lost his balance.
Thompkins fell backward and out of bounds as the ball fell incomplete.
Nine times out of 10, the nature of the play would have drawn penalty flags. This was that one time out of 10.
Incompletion: 10-Yard Dig Route
As the second quarter got underway, the Patriots had to work from the 20-yard line. The offense showed “21,” and the coaching staff called on Thompkins to run a 10-yard dig.
As Brady took the snap, the Bills pass rush quickly closed in. In turn, the quarterback was just before he got the ball out.
The result was a bounced incompletion. The pass didn’t get halfway to its receiver before hitting the ground.
Completion: Deep Curl Route
On a 1st-and-10 with less than seven minutes to go in the first half, Thompkins shipped out on a 20-yard deep curl while Brady faked the play-action. As he crossed the Buffalo 40, his fly route turned into a curl. And it transpired on a dime, which left McKelvin five yards off.
As the ball closed in, Thompkins broke back to it, leaped up, and with his hands out in front of him, he secured the ball cleanly.
Getting both feet inbounds upon landing, the greenhorn’s sharp route-running created separation for a 20-yard pick-up.
While Thompkins used his feet and deception to create space, he didn’t use his feet and deception to take more space. McKelvin didn’t shove Thompkins out of bounds; he tiptoed out under his own will.
Incomplete: Comeback Route
On a 3rd-and-5 midway through the second quarter of action, the Patriots operated out of “10” personnel with four receivers out wide. Thompkins, near the left sideline, got out of his stance to run a comeback route.
He fought through McKelvin’s contact via a speed release outside. From the sticks, he planted himself back to the ball and hauled in the arrow from Brady.
But after Thompkins caught the pass, he made a common college-to-pros mistake.
He didn’t get the second foot inbounds. And an incompletion was the byproduct.
Incompletion: Wide Receiver Screen
On a 1st-and-10 with 8:56 left in the third quarter, the Patriots aligned three receivers out wide with Brady in shotgun. At that juncture, Thompkins embarked on quick screen nearly identical to his two-yard reception earlier – just on the opposite side of the hashes.
As Thompkins meandered out and swiveled back in, Brady hit him as his first read.
McKelvin was there to hit him, too.
The defensive back toppled over the crouched receiver and jarred the ball out. Consequently, the short pass was ruled incomplete and Thompkins was ruled for a drop.
Completion: Five-Yard Dig Route
With under six minutes left in the third, the Patriots offense found itself down by the goal line in “11” with Thompkins flanked right. Off the snap, Thompkins ran four yards downfield, brushed off his man with sweeping arms, and carved inside as Brady threw his way.
Thompkins’ underneath eclipsing garnered him a reception. Nevertheless, if he kept his footing and didn’t lay out for the ball, he could have had a touchdown. No Bills defender was immediately there to graze him at the point of reception.
Between his college days and his four preseason games, Thompkins flashed the clean routes and ball-carrier vision to be considered more than a possession receiver.
His regular-season debut didn’t consistently glean those traits.
Incompletion: Slant Route
Out of the no-huddle attack on the next play, Thompkins stood as the lone receiver abutting the left sideline. As Brady harnessed the snap and faked the handoff to tailback Shane Vereen, Thompkins slowly stuttered forward before patiently slanting behind the safeties on his path to the goal post.
Brady floated the ball overhead to Thompkins, who went second-level behind McKelvin’s man coverage to make the snag.
Still, momentum worked against New England’s starting wideout. With some assistance from Buffalo’s right cornerback, Thompkins flew out of bounds before getting a foot in.
Could Thompkins have done anything differently on the potential touchdown?
It’s easy to pontificate in hindsight. But to make a couple bullet points, he could have run a shallower slant to allow himself a larger landing pad, and he could have gone back-shoulder instead of front.
Instead, it was an incompletion.
Completion: Deep Comeback Route
On a 2nd-and-5 early in the final quarter, the Patriots displayed “21” with Thompkins out left. As the ball was snapped, the receiver bent inside before redirecting outside and down the field. When he surpassed the 30-yard marker, he adjusted back to inhale a pass from Brady.
Thompkins didn’t make it easy on himself as the ball arrived. He was content with his footing and corralled the inside throw without closing in on it.
For all intents and purposes, his 16-yard catch was an impressive one. That said, he left his feet behind when he went out to catch the ball. And as a consequence, he prevented himself from acquiring more yards.
Incompletion: Deep Crossing Route
On a 2nd-and-goal with 11:30 left in the tilt, the Patriots were in seating to get pay dirt. As the ball was hiked, Thompkins twisted inside his defender on his itinerary to running a deep crossing route.
Yet as Brady went through his progressions and Thompkins reached the back of the end zone, the wideout cut off his route. He looked back before stepping away from the defenders as Brady flung a pass in.
Thompkins didn’t run to it; he sprung to it.
The ball fell incomplete.
Incompletion: Curl Route
With 8:41 left to play and the Patriots down a point, Thompkins left the line to run a curl route. Every step of the way, McKelvin was there with him. But despite that, Brady stuck with his read and fired a ball in.
The ninth incompletion associated with Thompkins could be attributed to a discrepancy in the route distance. It could be attributed to stopping and running back to the ball. Or, it could be attributed to a misplaced throw.
Regardless, it went down as an incompletion.
Incompletion: Fade Route
Thompkins’ last target of the game came on a 3rd-and-7 with six minutes to go. As Brady handled the ball, Thompkins strove to beat McKelvin on a curving fade route outside.
As Thompkins reached the 50-yard line, Brady had the ball airborne and in his direction. Underthrown, Thompkins nearly saw his man register an interception.
Instead, it deflected to the ground.
With that, Thompkins’ 4-14 day drew to a close. Pro Football Focus graded his performance out as -2.8 – the third lowest among NFL receivers who played 25 percent of offensive snaps. Nonetheless, even with the numbers in the books, it’s important to note that Thompkins’ development is not.
Week 1 was a point of reference. Now, it’s about taking it in context and learning from it.